For three months in 2007, a series of home invasions targeting Hispanics terrorized their Columbus neighborhood.
The crimes started Feb. 16 and came to a bloody end on April 8, when intruders killed 45-year-old Marcelo Rivera and 15-year-old Isaias Bartolon at Lot 63 of the Winterfield Mobile Home Park, 400 29th Ave.
At least five suspects later were charged in the intrusions: Raymon S. Baker, Jeffrey Miller, Reginald Hoskin, Cassinova Houston and his brother Thomas Houston.
Miller, Hoskin and Thomas Houston pleaded guilty Nov. 5, 2008. Cassinova Houston pleaded guilty two days later, and a jury found Baker guilty the following Nov. 17.
Thomas Houston appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing he was misinformed of his appeal rights before pleading guilty and that he felt “coerced” to enter his plea.
The high court this week rejected that appeal.
The justices’ decision did not review evidence in the criminal investigation, but the court did restate it while rejecting Baker’s appeal in October 2013.
Here is a recap of events that fatal night in April 2007:
At 10:40 p.m., four masked men entered the back door of a Hispanic man’s apartment and forced nine people inside to go into the living room, where they were robbed of cash, cell phones and gold chains. The victims were pistol-whipped and beaten with pipes.
Around 11:15 p.m., someone knocked on the door of a trailer in the nearby Winterfield trailer park. When resident Eimar Bartolon opened the door, three masked me forced their way in. One had a rifle; the other two had metal pipes with which they started beating Bartolon and his relatives, who fought back.
Rudibel Bartolon battled one of the raiders until a fourth intruder armed with a .22-caliber pistol came in and hit him. The intruder with the rifle forced Eimar Bartolon’s teenage brother Isaias into the trailer’s bathroom as Eimar Bartolon pushed one of the pipe-wielding bandits onto a front porch.
Rivera, a neighbor, heard the ruckus and rushed over to help. A robber in front of the trailer started firing a handgun at Eimar Bartolon on the porch until he ducked for cover. Then the intruders fled.
They left Rivera lying in the street, shot in the waist and back by a .22-caliber gun. Inside the trailer, Isaias Bartolon lay on the floor, dead from a point-blank shot to the head.
On the porch police later found a dark knit cap. A test showed it had DNA evidence matching Baker.
During Baker’s trial, Cassinova Houston testified that Baker that night was the robber armed with a 7.62-caliber Norinko SKS rifle. Cassinova Houston said his brother Thomas Houston had the .22-caliber pistol that killed Isaias Bartolon and fatally wounded Rivera.
Cassinova Houston said he and another accomplice, Jessie Willis, were armed with metal pipes.
Thomas Houston pleaded guilty to two counts of murder, seven of attempted armed robbery, 13 of armed robbery, 19 of aggravated assault, seven of attempted armed robbery, and four of burglary. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Before his guilty plea, he waited in court with Miller and Hoskin, who were charged in only one of the break-ins. Houston also was to plead guilty, but changed his mind and said he wanted to go to trial. He remained in the courtroom as his co-defendants pleaded.
After hearing Miller and Hoskin say they would testify in any upcoming trial in the case, Houston changed his mind again, and said he would plea.
Thomas’ appeal argued the judge told him then that if he entered a plea, “all appeals are off,” which the Supreme Court justices said was inaccurate. He also said his defense counsel was ineffective, and he felt compelled to plead guilty.
He also argued his seven counts of attempted armed robbery should have been combined for sentencing with his 13 counts of armed robbery, but the Supreme Court said each was a separate incident:
“A review of the indictment reveals that appellants’ seven attempted armed robbery convictions involved different victims than his 13 completed armed robberies,” the justices wrote. “Appellant victimized 20 separate individuals and thus he was properly convicted and sentenced on each of the 20 counts.”
Columbus police said the robbers were targeting Hispanics because the victims rarely used banks, keeping cash stored in their homes.